November 13, 2020 by Joseph Moore
On the cusp of Thanksgiving and Advent, in a year that has been unlike any other in recent memory, I find myself wondering what the Thanksgiving holiday might look like in the week ahead. In the midst of an uncertain economy, a contentious election season, the destabilizing and death-dealing effects of a raging pandemic, and the fact that many of us will not be able to gather with family this year, I wonder what it could look like for us to practice giving thanks.
My wife and I have three children and one of their (very few) chores involves writing 3 things for which they are grateful each day. A few nights ago I happened to walk by their room and overheard one of our children say to their sibling, “I don’t know why we have to do this stupid gratitude journal.” I popped my head into the room and said, “I’m sorry you feel that way, I promise you we aren’t trying to make life difficult for you, we just think it’s a good practice.” I then ‘invited’ my child to write a one page essay, due the following Saturday, on the benefits of gratitude.
My son was, to say the least, not very happy about this ‘invitation’ but he obliged. Three reputable sources and one essay later, he discovered what researchers have known for a long time, what the biblical writers have known for even longer, and that is the truth that gratitude begets more gratitude. My son wrote, “Gratitude is like a muscle that really can be strengthened.” Some people strengthen their gratitude muscle with a journal, or a prayer practice, or intentional way of living.
From the narrative of abundance in the creation story to Paul’s admonition that we give thanks in everything, our sacred story is infused with the call to be grateful. In our Reformed Tradition gratitude lies at the heart of what it means to be a disciple. Everything we do flows from a place of gratitude, because God first loved us.
But here’s the thing … this type of gratitude isn’t sweet. It isn’t shallow. It doesn’t come on the cheap. It is in fact the sort of orientation that grows out of struggle and difficulty, making this year possibly the best year ever to strengthen our gratitude muscles.
In Philippians, the Apostle Paul tells the Church, and he tells us, to let our requests be made known to God, in thanksgiving. In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God (Philippians 4:7). If we stop at verse seven we might think, ‘Sure Paul, that’s easy for you to say.’ But if you keep reading a few more verses you’ll see where he reminds the Church, and he reminds us, that he knows what it is like to have little and to have plenty, to be well fed and to be hungry (Philippians 4:12).
To a people in need of encouragement, to a people in the midst of struggle, to a Church unsure of exactly where it was going, Paul says, “In everything…with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In the midst of a potentially lonely holiday season, a lost job, and a global pandemic, remember what Paul said to the Church, what he says to us:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).
The truth is…I needed to write this essay as much or more than my child needed to write his essay on Gratitude. I needed to rediscover some Gospel Truth. So thank you, dear reader, for the opportunity for me to strengthen my own gratitude muscle a little bit more. Bless you as you do the same in your own life, and in the life of the Church.
Joseph Moore serves as the Ministry Relations Officer for the South Central Region. He works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries, and provides coaching to finance, stewardship and endowment committees. You can reach Joseph at email@example.com.